A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 123

Number, please.

Thursday, July 30

Attending to all these humdrum matters has robbed me of any ability to write something interesting for the website. 

This morning, I spent more time on the phone waiting for a functionary to schedule a repairman—in this case for the landline phone, which is only partly operative since Optimum set up the temporary Internet connection. It’s a good thing we have the Internet connection, though. We’d be pulling our hair out without that fix however temporary it may be. 

It may rain just as Peapod’s truck arrives. Their whole shtick is mysterious. Earlier this afternoon, they sent a note revealing just which of our items will not be coming: No walnuts, no nuts of any kind. No tofu, no ice cream, and limited cookies. The actual order might be missing other things—this is just the official “out of stock” list.

As one waits, it’s hard to stay away from the kitchen—to quit raiding the small amount of junk food we have remaining. There are still some onion-and-sour-cream potato chips and some Ritz crackers. No cheese, however. Each fortnight as we near a Peapod delivery time, we go from near famine to—I won’t say feast, but a more substantial larder at least. Yes, it’s hard to stay away from the cliche of “feast or famine.”

Tonight’s dinner: a ziti salad with snow peas, grape tomatoes, roasted red peppers, scallions, Kalamata olives, and artichoke hearts. On the side, a bit of leftover coleslaw.

Entertainment: Netflix’ amnesia drama Tabula Rasa.

A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 122

Wednesday, July 29

Troubles with my website continue. After further conversation with another rep from the web host Media Temple, who can find nothing wrong, in the late afternoon I tried logging on again—and once again get the message that the Mac’s web browser Safari can’t find the server. Then, a brainwave! I tried getting into www.hardygreen.com using a different browser—Google Chrome. And that worked, so maybe that’s the ticket.

We have numerous problems: At the moment only one landline phone is working—the one we have plugged into the new Altice modem. Other extensions don’t get a dial tone. I suspect there’s a transition underway, and once Optimum has taken over the landline from Verizon, all will be ok again. 

Meanwhile, Emily is having problems with medical stuff: physical therapy, mammograms, etc. Rather than going back to Manhattan for these things, she wants to take care of them out here on Long Island. But every new caregiver’s office raises problems. Man (and woman) is born to trouble, as it says in the Book of Job (I think).

Finally, we’re looking ahead to another Peapod delivery tomorrow. Once they come—sometime late in the day—we’ll find out just what they are delivering and just what is “out of stock.” Will we get either fresh mozzarella or pork chops? What about an eggplant or the always essential walnuts? Nothing can be assumed.

At least, for the moment, the heat and humidity has waned. It’s a tad cooler—81 degrees with rain and thundershowers forecast for tomorrow.

Dinner: more beans and rice plus a green salad.

Entertainment: Mhz’ crime drama Murder at the Lake, followed by old episodes of Yes, Minister.

A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 121

Now, there are problems with this website, and I’m still having problems with our Internet connection even though we now have a temporary Optimum connection.

Today, when I first tried to connect to this site, I was told that I couldn’t connect to the server. I spent some time on the phone yesterday with the company that hosts the site, Media Temple, and for a while, everything seemed ok. But today, the connection is intermittent. Emily tried to connect and at first got an “offline version”–which showed older, early-July postings. Then if she clicked on the “July” heading, it took her to the most recent post.

I’ll keep trying.

Tonight’s dinner: a Greek salad with feta cheese and grape tomatoes, plus leftover beans and rice.

Entertainment: We’ve returned to watching old episodes of the political satire Yes, Minister on Britbox.

A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 120

Testing, testing. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congrexs.

Friday, July 24

Person. Woman. Man. Camera. TV.

In a rational society, Trump would be institutionalized (maybe at Mar-a-Lago) and treated by a therapist for his excruciating, incapacitating insecurity–as shown in his need to assert, despite all evidence, that he does well on tests. 

For it is tests that come up time and again: the mental acuity test that he’s now trumpeting, the Scholastic Aptitude Test, and…COVID testing, as if that too were some kind of exam aimed at humiliating Trump. If not for COVID testing, the infection rate would be much lower, he says. 

The very word “test” sets him off.

I suspect his father baited him, that Donald was ill-at-ease among his peers, was scorned by teachers, and finally, fearing failure, paid a substitute to take his SAT, as his neice asserts in a recent, much-discussed book. (He is still paying in the sense that he feels he would have flunked.) Getting into Wharton was no big deal—it was clear that daddy would cover the costs. 

Amid the raving, it seems increasingly possible that Donald will have to be put away come November.

Or, like Woodrow Wilson who suffered a stroke during his second term, Don will hang out in the White House while somebody else handles the actual “work” of being President.

During the last presidential election, a portion of the electorate was in the mood to break windows and scrawl graffiti on the Washington Monument. Trump’s election was an act of political vandalism. There’s less of that now—unless such anger is resurfacing in the ranks of a very different cause, that of the Black Lives Matter protesters.

The “deplorables” who make up Trump’s most vocal base have likely gravitated to other activities. On my walks around this neighborhood, I have frequently passed an isolated corner house with a flagpole bearing a large, blue flag reading, “Trump: No More Bullshit.”

But nowadays, there’s no flag in evidence. Bullshit walks.

I also see many fewer pickup trucks bearing Trump bumper stickers. Once, such stickers were like a neck tattoo or a prominently displayed Confederate flag: a statement that “I’m a rebel!” 

Today, the rebels are all headed for the marble-icon graveyard. No one seems to care very much.

Dinner: leftover frittata with mushrooms, corn muffins, and lettuce salad with avocado and grape tomatoes.

Entertainment: Episodes of the French drama The Forest.

A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 119

Glyphs of mystery.

Thursday, July 23

Yesterday, a set of unusual markings appeared in our yard and out in the street—circles, letters, numbers, and arrows in red, orange, and blue. I saw no one making the markings, and they are as indecipherable as the hieroglyphs of an ancient race—but they portend the arrival of our new Internet connection. 

I eagerly called our Optimum contact, but after more reflection and investigation, it seems these are likely just the work of a markings crew. A different crew still has to come and install a cable. Then, yet another operative must come and hook up a modem and router. 

The blue lines and paint splotches probably indicate the placement of our Suffolk County Water Authority connection. The Optimum folks likely want to avoid damaging SCWA’s stuff. What is the orange paint—electricity? Maybe the red arrows and measurements are where the Internet cable will actually be placed. 

I think the Optimum cable will connect to some magic box on the opposite side of the street and run across our yard up to the house. Question: How will they get the cable under the street? In Manhattan, I believe they would get out the jackhammers and make nasty gashes in the asphalt. What do they do here? Use some kind of hypo or dirt-buster to punch the cable under the street? Then, do they tunnel across our yard? We’ll probably never know, unless they happen to make lots of noise that will prompt us to investigate.

Dinner: Frittata with mushrooms and grilled onion, corn muffins, and a lettuce and avocado salad.

Entertainment: nothing, thanks to Internet inavailability.

A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 118

Marcello floats in 8 1/2.

Wednesday, July 22

“And might it not be… that we have appointments to keep in the past, in what has gone before and is for the most part extinguished…?”

—W.G. Sebald, Austerlitz

And might it not be that we keep such appointments via our dreams?

“One may be born with the potential for a prodigious memory, but one is not born with a disposition to recollect; this comes only with changes and separations in life—separations from people, from places, from events and situations… It is, thus, discontinuities, the great discontinuities in life that we seek to bridge.

—Oliver Sacks, An Anthropologist on Mars

In a dream, it is night and I am with my mother (who died in 2005) at the Memphis house where I grew up. Distantly, I hear her say something like “I’ll be right back.” And she disappears. I search for her in the dark, calling “Geneva” out the back door, then up into the attic via a closet that contains the furnace, then out the front door into the darkness. There is no response. I look out the front and just see the grassy lawn—no one is around.

Freud says all dreams are attempts at wish fulfillment. So maybe this was an attempt to get my mother to return. But my dreams are quite varied and only a few can be interpreted as wish fulfillment.

Places that often appear in my dreams: my grandmother’s dark old house, my childhood home, Macy’s department store and its quaint old wooden-stair escalator, jazz and classical music concerts, and trains—particularly subways both in Boston and New York. What’s with the trains? Is there a sense of movement in sleep, as with Marcello Mastroianni’s floating in the air at the beginning of Fellini’s 8 1/2? And what’s with Macy’s??

It is not unusual for me to make angry, incoherent noises in my sleep—and for Emily to wake me up. In a recent case, I dreamed I was asleep, stretched out somehow inside a car—probably my mother’s Plymouth Valiant. The covers are comfy—then somebody breaks into the car and snatches away the blanket. I begin shouting for this person to bring back the covers. 

Another such case: I dream there is an intruder. I see him standing in the living room, turned in profile to me, and behind him I can see the oval, gold-framed mirror that stood on the wall at my childhood home. I can also see Emily in the next room, lying in bed asleep. Angry and afraid, I begin to shout at the man, and to throw things at him, including lightweight barbells. My shouts cause Emily to wake me up.

And yet another night terror: At our house on Long Island, I am looking out the side door. It is dark, but I can see that the trees are filled with large, threatening birds, flapping their wings and cawing ominously. I begin yelling at them to go away. Wake up, Hardy, says Emily.

She says that in such circumstances, she isn’t sure what to do. Should she wake me—or will that just frighten me more?

Not all of my dreams are terrors. Here’s another, peaceful reverie.

I go for a walk after dark, accompanied by a dog and a cat. I give the dog a pat on its belly. But I realize that the duo wants to go home, so we go back. Almost immediately, I see the cat on the bed alongside another cat, both fast asleep. The dog has disappeared, perhaps gone to an adjoining room. I am not sleepy, so I stay awake, content to watch.

Dinner: cold pasta salad with snap peas, roasted red peppers, grilled onions, Kalamata olives, cucumbers, and parsley.

Entertainment: More episodes of Rebus on Britbox.

A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 117

Some innocents abroad.

Monday, July 20

The cable guy from Optimum just came and, after looking around in the house and in the basement, he announced that the cable from the street to our house was old and inoperative. So, he says, he’ll arrange for a crew to come in over the next few days and install a new cable, linking to some magic box, then going under the street, and finally over to our house. Then next week another guy will come with the modem and router and, presto chango, we should have better Internet connection. Here’s hoping.

Meanwhile, it is hard to do much of anything online. Provided I rise early enough, I can check my e-mail and read the paper. Emily seems able to do her Times puzzles on her Android phone. But by 10 a.m. or thereabouts, my Internet connection is kaput. Lately, it seems to work again around 7 p.m.—who can say why. Is it just a reflection of how many people are on their phones at a given moment? Is it related to the weather…or the number of trees between us and the cell-phone towers? Somebody knows, but not me.

I take turns reading a bit of Jane Eyre and then a bit of Innocents Abroad, both downloaded from Project Gutenberg. Both are enormously long—I thought I had read Jane Eyre before, but I don’t remember its being such a tome. Mark Twain says numerous racist things about the Portuguese—and I’m only on page 145. Probably typical of American thinking circa 1869. Twain hailed from the slave state of Missouri and later resided in Connecticut. Perhaps the statues of him should be pulled down.

Tonight’s dinner: a Greek salad with feta cheese and olives, and the remainder of the chicken salad.

Entertainment: Assuming we can connect, old episodes of Rebus on Britbox.

A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 116

A visitor from another planet–or just a toadstool?

Saturday, July 18

It’s supposed to be hot and dry for the next several days. Limited Internet means I can’t check e-mail or my bank balance easily, nor is it easy to pay bills, so they may have to wait. I’m bringing capitalism to its knees one unpaid bill at a time. Some 25% of New York City residents are believed to be in arrears regarding their rent.

I have now read three Julian Symons mystery novels, each quite unlike the others. I enjoyed The Detling Secret best—a country house mystery set in the late 19th century—then, The Immaterial Murder Case and The Color of Murder. The last of these is a 1950s courtroom drama with an emphasis on psychology, “one of the most acclaimed British crime novels” of that decade, according to the introduction. The penultimate title is a contemporary art-world caper with a Ten-Little-Indians-like, closed circle cast of suspects. It has five sections, each narrated by a different one of these persons. The first, narrated by “the Innocent American,” is very droll, but other sections are sometimes dry and Just the Facts, Ma’am ponderous. I suspect that’s intentional.

I keep thinking I’ll read a Dickens—perhaps Our Mutual Friend or Hard Times. But I’m put off by the length of the novels and the sheer number of characters. Or maybe Mark Twain—Innocents Abroad or Life on the Mississippi. I dunno. Not long back I reread Huckleberry Finn and enjoyed it very much, but something keeps me from these other titles.

A very large number of free e-books are available from http://www.gutenberg.org. I have downloaded and read several Henry James novels: The Lesson of the Master, The Aspern Papers, and Italian Hours. All were quite interesting and not nearly as daunting as the James I have in print, including The Golden Bowl and The Wings of the Dove. Maybe I’ll seek out others in e-book format,  when our Internet access improves.

Dinner: chicken salad with apples and walnuts, coleslaw

Entertainment: Final episodes of Netflix thriller London Spy.

A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 115

The beach scene at Three Mile Harbor.

Thursday, July 16

It’s very difficult to establish any Internet connection today using our Verizon mobile hotspot. So I have set up an appointment with Optimum to come and install a modem and router on Monday. Then with their cable connection, our Internet and email links should be more secure. Fingers crossed.

Dinner: the Latin stew known as picadillo, a little leftover cold noodles with sesame sauce, and lettuce and cucumber salad.

Entertainment: concluding episodes of The Twelve.

A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 114

The Times’ Letter Boxed puzzle.

Wednesday, July 15

For several years now, Emily has been a dutiful solver of The New York Times Crossword Puzzle. When she was 10, she began doing the Sunday puzzle (which of course is more challenging than the daily puzzles). Then, after a hiatus of many years, she returned to doing the Sunday brain-beater and added the daily puzzle—and sometimes even the Mini crossword and the arithmetic-related KenKen.

This addiction was aided by her gaining access to electronic versions of Times stumpers. A Times puzzle subscription gives one access to a plethora of puzzles, perhaps eight to ten in total. Now, it’s with non-crosswords that she is primarily obsessed—Spelling Bee and Letter Boxed, but particularly the latter. When she’s not listening to Continuing Legal Education lectures or reading books, chances are she’ll be laboring over these.

Here’s how they work:  With Spelling Bee, they give you seven letters—appearing visually in something like a cloverleaf. You make a list of as many words as you can with these seven letters. Each word must include the letter that appears in the center of the cloverleaf, and each word must be at least four letters long. The Times will either allow or disallow any proposed word. (No, there’s no electric shock administered if your word is disallowed.) As you create a list, you are given rankings that range from “good start” through “solid” to “amazing” and “genius.” Effectively, there is a 24-hour time limit—at the end of which time, a new puzzle appears along with the solution to the previous day’s puzzle.

Letter Boxed goes like this: Each day you see a box with three letters showing on each of the four sides. You type in any letter shown, then for a second letter you choose from any of the nine letters appearing on other sides of the square. (Your next letter cannot be one of those that appear on the side of the box where you began.) The goal is to use all twelve letters while making as few words as possible. Each new word must begin with the final letter used in the previous word.

A two-word solution (very difficult) is the ne plus ultra

Each day, a new puzzle appears along with the Times’ own two-word solution to the previous day’s puzzle.

Emily says Letter Boxed is her favorite as it is the most challenging and allows for the most creativity. (Another challenge: our current problems with Internet access. Sometimes, the Internet goes down, she loses her work, and there’s no connection for hours.)

She has grown to dislike the crosswords, as they seem to include an ever greater number of pop-culture references. Moreover, there have been an increasing number of tricks and gimmicks—such as combining two letters in one box, or omitting certain letters altogether—and these put her off, too.

Letter Boxed calls on visual memory. You stare at the letters and, aha, you can visualize “cuneiform.” But that means that the next word must begin with an M. And that would be a snare—to get that day’s two-word solution, you needed to form “public” first, then “cuneiform.”

“It’s a logic problem, sort of like legal problems,” she reflects.

Such puzzles are not merely creative time-wasters, appropriate for lockdown’s long days. They are also brain-matter builders, good for staving off wastage of the little gray cells.

“Miss Lemon, my tisane si vous plais.”

Dinner: mozzarella cheese and tomato salad, cold sesame noodles.

Entertainment: More of Netflix’ Belgian thriller The Twelve.